NBA Sunday: Pacers on the Brink
Pacers On the Brink
Regardless of what the new CBA ends up looking like, the Indiana Pacers are going to have more cap space than almost anybody else in the league, which means when it comes to top free agents like David West and/or Jamal Crawford (and/or others), they’ll have a decent amount of money to throw around in hopes of improving their team.
Considering how much the Pacers improved last year without any veteran free agency additions, the thought of adding just a couple for next season could put them in a position to grow into one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference whenever basketball finally returns.
Could Indiana really be a perennial powerhouse again? Don’t laugh; with the right free agency addition(s), that’s exactly what could end up happening.
Starting with a midseason coaching change that sent away Jim O’Brien and promoted Frank Vogel, the young Pacers really started to get their act together. O’Brien misused his point guards and his power forwards, but Vogel almost immediately siphoned bigger production from Darren Collison and Tyler Hansbrough. Slipping rookie Paul George into the starting lineup was another savvy move, and that core added to burgeoning center Roy Hibbert, one-time All-Star Danny Granger, and recent acquisition George Hill means Indiana is already in pretty good shape heading into next season.
But throw West and Crawford into the fray and you’ve got yourself a completely different team. Remember that in the first round of the 2011 Playoffs, the Pacers gave the league-best Chicago Bulls all they could handle in a hotly-contested five-game series. With that playoff experience under the young guys’ belts and the addition of a couple more tested veterans, we can start to see the rumblings of a team that could be dangerous both immediately and three or four years down the road.
Imagine a starting lineup featuring Collison, Crawford, Granger, West, and Hibbert, with Hill, George, and Hansbrough coming off the bench. In what way is that not at least competitive with the Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, and Atlanta Hawks? Even the Miami HEAT would get a run for their money against that group, which is why fans in Indianapolis are as excited as they’ve been in a decade.
It’s not a forgone conclusion that Crawford and West will end up Indiana, but Crawford played college basketball in Bloomington, is looking for a starting shooting guard spot somewhere, and hopes to be paid appropriately for doing so. There aren’t many other teams that can offer him what Indiana can. As for West, he’s got a similar opportunity; Indy needs a starting power forward badly and has the cash to make it worth his while. Not even his current team, the New Orleans Hornets, can say that.
Pacers GM David Morway said earlier this year that drawing free agents to Indiana can be challenging because it’s hard to convince some guys that Indianapolis is an awesome place to live. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Indy, but a great core of players can help convince those free agents teetering on the fence. If convinced, it gives the Pacers an even more impressive roster of players with which they can take on the league in 2012 and beyond. To say they’re on the brink of something special isn’t necessarily exaggerative.
What Players Used to Make
Boston Celtics great Bob Cousy was instrumental in starting the NBPA in the mid-1950s, and at age 83, he’s still weighing in with his opinions on labor.
For him, this whole lockout must appear ridiculous considering his first NBA contract was worth $9,000, and now the minimum veteran’s salary is valued at just a shade under $1.4 million a season. It’s that sort of comparison of salaries that really puts the lockout in perspective. It’s been a mere 57 years since Cousy helped found the NBPA, but the way salaries have blown up since then goes way beyond simple inflation.
“My sense from observing the scene is we may have overexpanded in some cities and we’ve watered down the product,’’ Cousy told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe. “There are a lot of cities in the NBA, obviously, that are not doing well that have to compete with the Bostons and the LAs and the New Yorks, so there is an imbalance there and they’re going to have to figure it out and I think the players are going to have to make maybe some sacrifices.’’
He added, “I’m not familiar with all the issues so it’s hard to take sides… But we’ve made a great life from playing a child’s game. I said all along that the football thing would be settled quickly because there was $9 billion on the table, and if you can’t split that up without coming to blows then there’s something wrong. So it’s always a little greed that takes hold here.’’
Greed indeed. In the NBA’s first season, 1946-1947, most players earned between $4,000 and $5,000, and the league salary cap was $55,000. Tom King of the Detroit Falcons earned the most money of anybody that year, pulling in $16,500. Even adjusted for inflation, that $16,500 yearly salary would be worth “only” about $200,000 today.
To illustrate how the money in the league has changed over the years, consider that George Mikan, the league’s first overwhelming talent, averaged $12,000 a year over the course of his career.
Wilt Chamberlain, the most statistically dominant player ever, was paid $50,000 to play for the Globetrotters in 1958, but around that time a lot of players still earned $10,000 or less playing in the NBA. Chamberlain made $30,000 the next season to play for the Philadelphia Warriors, the highest ever at the time, and in 1968 he signed a one-year, $250,000 deal, the biggest basketball contract he’d ever get.
Larry Bird’s first contract with the Celtics was for five years and $3.25 million, an unheard of number for a rookie in 1979, but Shaquille has made more money just from playing basketball than anybody else in league history, mounting over $292 million before retiring. To compare, Michael Jordan earned about $90 million in salaries, $30 million of which came in a one-year contract his final season in the league.
All this just goes show how the value of the league has increased in the last half-century and how easily it could be argued that the players are, in fact, getting paid too much. Of course, the values of these organizations are astronomical as well, but whether or not owners are feeling the financial pinch probably depends on when they bought their franchise. The last twenty years have been especially profitable (due in large part to Jordan), so recent additions to the ownership fraternity may be struggling.
Despite that, it’s easy to see how an 83-year-old Cousy could shake his head about the way salaries are structured in today’s world, even though his $35,000 salary when he retired in 1963 was one of the highest in the league. I suppose it’s all relative, isn’t it?
- According to George Hill’s agent, Michael Whitaker, Hill is now among those considering playing overseas next year should the lockout extend well into the regular season.“If a team with the appropriate budget – that’s an Euroleague or Eurocup team – is willing to give him an NBA out if and when the lockout ends, George will highly consider the offer,” Whitaker told HoopsHype.com’s Jorge Sierra. “If the NBA season is fully canceled, it will be more likely that George pursues an opportunity to play in Europe or China.”
He added, “We had a few Euroleague and Eurocup teams very interested and willing to grant him an NBA out, but at the time George was not ready to commit to such offers. If such an offer comes at this point, I believe George will be more willing to consider it and accept it.”
- Omri Casspi apparently has been a hot name discussed by European teams looking to mine NBA talent during the lockout. According to Dubi Pick via Twitter, “Omri Casspi has several European offers he prefers not to reveal just yet, and is eager to play pro ball this coming season,” though Casspi himself has yet to confirm anything.
- On Saturday, there were reports that Turkish hoops club Fenerbahce Ulker was on the brink of signing Turkish hoops star Mehmet Okur, but Sunday morning the GM of that franchise, Aydin Ors, said that those rumors weren’t true.Fans of basketball in Turkey would love to see the return of one of the best players their country has ever produced, but it looks like so far that isn’t in the works. According to the Salt Lake Tribune article debunking the rumor, Okur’s agent, Mark Fleisher, could not be reached for any sort of confirmation.